In the wake of Hillary Clinton’s NPR interview last week, much attention was paid to her evolution on same-sex marriage. If you didn’t hear the interview, you might think that was all she and Terry Gross talked about. It was not. Indeed, Clinton gave us firsthand reminders of the challenges facing the international LGBT community – challenges that affect anyone who believes in the fundamental right to freedom.
As Secretary of State, Clinton was not at liberty to address domestic political issues (such as same-sex marriage). On the international stage, however, and in keeping with the title of her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton boldly asserted in Geneva in 2011: “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” It was a groundbreaking moment. She also told the international community: “being LGBT does not make you less human.”
Around the world, there are thousands of people who believe in equal rights for the LGBT community. But there are others who declare that homosexuality is an affront to civilization, that children must be protected from its perceived corruptive force, and that homosexuality should be a punishable, criminal offense.
In Russia, President Vladmir Putin passed the anti-gay propaganda law a year ago this month, making it a crime to publicly support gay rights or acknowledge same-sex relationships to a minor.
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In Uganda, President Yoweri Musevini passed the far worse Anti-homosexuality Act in February of this year, making homosexuality such an egregious crime (demanding life imprisonment in some cases) that anyone found “aiding or abetting” a homosexual (as in renting them an apartment), knowingly performing a same-sex marriage or not reporting a gay person to the authorities is committing a crime as well.
When she was Secretary of State, Clinton heard foreign leaders express beliefs that children were being “coerced” into homosexuality and “they didn’t want children being abused.” What is abusive, however, are laws that criminalize homosexuality and deny human rights because of sexual or gender orientation. Worse, government-sanctioned discrimination serves to incite hate crimes because perpetrators feel justified by their actions.
Case in point: Uganda. Since the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, violence against gays and lesbians has exponentially increased – more than 750% from reported assaults in 2013.
Elsewhere in the world, reports of anti-gay violence are also increasing, in an apparent backlash against advances in equality. In France, according to the latest reports, attacks against the LGBT community increased 78% last year. In Scotland, homophobic hate crimes were up 22%. Last fall I reported on the horrific attack of Scott Jones in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, one of the gay-friendliest corners of the world.
Nor are public figures exempt. Just a few days ago Vienna’s first openly gay politician, Ulrike Lunacek, was allegedly attacked with acid at Vienna’s pride parade. (She escaped injury.) And here at home, the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) documented that violence against LGBT persons was up nearly 27% in New York City in 2013. Sharon Stapel of the AVP further points out that nearly 90% of LGBT homicide victims throughout the U.S. were persons of color last year and 72% were transgender women.
In her interview with Terry Gross, Hillary Clinton defended including the transgender community in the fight for LGBT rights. “LGBT includes the T, and I wanted to stand up for the entire community. I don’t believe that people who are the L, the G, the B or the T should be persecuted, assaulted, imprisoned, even killed for who they are.”
Hillary Clinton at a book signing event in New York on June 10, 2014. Bebeto Matthews, AP
Hillary Clinton at a book signing event in New York on June 10, 2014.
Amen. Let’s hear that again.
“I don’t believe that people who are the L, the G, the B or the T should be persecuted, assaulted, imprisoned, even killed for who they are.”
I don’t believe any of us should be either. But that is what is happening. It must stop.
Clinton expressed to Terry Gross her frustration with leaders who denied the existence of homosexuality in their countries and declared it “all an invention and export from the West.” This may seem preposterous (not a single gay person in your entire country?!) but that belief is real. In 2007, speaking at Columbia University, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals.” When interviewed in 2011 by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he confirmed, “My position hasn’t changed.”
One wonders what President Ahmadinejad might say about the fact that an 82-page report using data compiled by the Iranian Ministry of Education from 2007-2008 reveals that 17.5% of male and female Iranian students admitted to being gay.
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But if he doesn’t acknowledge their existence, he cannot be responsible for addressing their human rights.
In the movie The Confession (1999), character Harry Fertig declaims, “Most people think it’s hard to do the right thing. It’s not hard to do the right thing; it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is. Once you know what the right thing is, it’s hard not to do it.”
Clinton made the hard choice to defend the human rights of the international LGBT community and, in her interview with Terry Gross, she reminds us that none of us lives on an island. We are a global community. It is not enough to fight for equality at home. We must win equality at home and continue to be a vocal leader in the fight for the human rights of LGBT persons everywhere. Nothing short of real lives is at stake.